Surviving Halloween With Sensory Issues

 When I think of Halloween, my mind races back to colorful memories of bright and lively costumes, overly sweet and delicious fun-sized bars of chocolate, and children of all ages screaming “trick or treat”! As most parents know, children who are especially oversensitive to auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli may experience a spark in meltdowns or increase in negative behaviors as a response to this incoming sensory input. Below are some helpful strategies to circumvent these challenges before the day and ensure a safe, fun, and successful Halloween for all.

How to survive Halloween with sensory issues:

  • Recognizing the symptoms of auditory sensitivity is the first step in preventing any tantrums or negativeHow to Survive Halloween with Sensory Issues experiences resulting from auditory overload. If your child has auditory sensitivities, investing in some noise-canceling ear plugs or headphones may help to alleviate some of the meltdowns that arise with loud music or conversation at Halloween parties.
  • Trick or treating is one of the most fun and special parts about Halloween. Encouraging children to take part in this special tradition is important to allow them to be able to explore and grow their social skills and leisure opportunities. If your child is tactile or visually sensitive, or he becomes overly emotional or uncomfortable when having to meet and introduce themselves to people, it may be helpful to have an older sibling take on the responsibility of introducing selves to neighbors or family while trick-or-treating. Let your child choose if they want to partake in ringing the doorbell and asking for treats, and know that it is okay if they wish to hang back with caregiver while visiting unfamiliar houses. Role playing with your child to help them prepare for the day’s activities can also be a helpful way to improve their social emotional responses.
  • Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes time to wear a costume! Oftentimes, Halloween costumes can be hot, difficult to put on, or uncomfortable. To avoid this nightmare, prepare your child by having them wear their costume days before the festivities, so that they have an opportunity to break in their costume on their own time, which can highlight any potential issues beforehand. Hosting a fashion show with other siblings or friends could help to make the idea of wearing non-traditional clothing more fun and exciting in a non-threatening environment.
  • For Halloween parties, make sure to bring some familiar food for the child to enjoy. Safe food choices can be comforting in an unfamiliar setting like a family or friend gathering, especially when the parent is not there for support. If the party is at your house, take advantage of this by setting up a sensory corner away from the main area of entertainment and provide extensive individual and all age activities to try out. Some good suggestions may include coloring, painting pumpkins, or themed craft jewelry. Playing quiet music and decreasing the amount bright lighting can help alleviate some stress for children with sensory concerns.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

What to Do When Your Behavior Chart Isn’t Working

Have you found that your child’s behavior chart is no longer as effective as it once was?  Or, maybe you’ve been working at it for weeks but have yet to observe your new behavior system actually working.  Well, you’ve come to the right place.  Today’s blog is all about making adjustments and modifications to your behavior system.  At this point, it may be tempting for you to throw away the whole idea of using behavior charts at all.  While I’m certainly not claiming that behavior charts are always the answer to managing your child’s behaviors, they can be a very effective parenting tool.  So, don’t give up!  If your behavior chart has not been working, try considering the following.

What to do when your behavior chart isn’t working:

  • Review the expected behaviors- New behaviors take time for children to learn and build into theirbehavior-chart-main routines. Be sure the behavior you want your children doing is understandable to them and age-appropriate.  Before a child can be expected to demonstrate behaviors independently, he/she can practice engaging in the behaviors with an older sibling or an adult.
  • Consider the motivators/rewards- If you already have a behavior chart set up, then you’ve (hopefully) already identified rewards. The rewards your child earns must be motivating to him/her.  A common misconception is that these rewards have to be purchased items or experiences.  Sure, most children are motivated by new toys, but there are other privileges and experiences that cost no money at all.  So get creative!  For example, a few extra minutes of play before bed, special time with a parent, or sitting in “mom’s seat” during dinner are all rewards that have been very motivating for a number of children.  Many parents also find it helpful to have a list of rewards and allow their child to choose what he or she earns.
  • Explore alternative strategies- Behavior charts can be an effective parenting tool for a number of reasons. One of the potential advantages to using a behavior chart is that it eliminates the need to make day-to-day (or minute-to-minute) decisions of how to respond to a child’s behaviors.  It is possible that if you’ve been consistently responding to your child’s behaviors and they do not seem to be learning from the rewards and consequences provided, a different intervention may be warranted.  Don’t hesitate to contact a professional social worker for parenting support.

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What did you do when your behavior chart stopped working?  Do you have other ideas of how parents and caregivers can get the most out of their behavior management system?  Your comments are welcome below.

 NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Behavior Charts: The Basics

Behavior Chart Basics

Behavior charts are helpful tools for encouraging appropriate, responsible, and respectful behaviors in children.  Perhaps the most challenging part of implementing a behavior chart is the actual set up.  Below you will find a list of strategies to make this process go smoothly.

Behavior Chart Basics:

Work WITH your child to create realistic behavior expectations.

  • Sit down with your child and discuss the desired expectation. Word expectations in a positive way.
    • “Pick up toys” as opposed to “don’t make a mess”
    • “Listen to directions after one or fewer warnings” instead of “Don’t argue”
  • Allow the child to choose what types of rewards can be earned. Rewards do not have to include buying anything.
    • Special time with a parent
    • Extra bedtime stories
    • Screen time
  • Be consistent
    • In the example above about listening to directions, if you give more than one warning, the opportunity to earn a point or sticker that time is over.
    • Decide what is acceptable and use that same benchmark in all situations.
  • Create a system that that gives the child opportunities to earn rewards incrementally
    • 2 points for cleaning plate independently, 1 point for cleaning plate after a reminder
    • A target number of points earned throughout the week can earn a larger, “weekend reward”.
  • Give child many opportunities to be successful
    • Encourage him/her to try something a second time if initially done incorrectly.
    • If your chart has multiple behaviors, be sure to include a behavior that your child already demonstrates most of the time.

Sample Behavior Charts:

Desired Behavior:Put toys away when finished playing Reward
Extra bedtime story
Stay up 10 minutes later than regular bedtime
I choose dessert after dinner

Example behavior chart for single behavior


Behavior/ Day Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Behavior 1
Behavior 2
Behavior 3

Example Behavior Chart for Multiple Behaviors

Do you have experience with behavior charts?  What are your tips on making them effective?  Please leave your feedback below.

 NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

reading with your preschooler

The Best Way To Read With Preschoolers

Reading is widely recognized as the ultimate language activity. Through reading a child encounters new vocabulary and language concepts. Not only does reading out loud with your preschoolers have positive benefits for their academic success, but it is a great way to build relationships with your child as well as help him or her develop a passion for reading.

Here are some suggestions to make reading with your preschooler a positive experience:

  1. Be enthusiastic! Children will follow your lead – if you are excited about the story they will beThe Best Way To Read With Your Preschooler too! Add your own emotion and twists into the pages of the book. Children love silly voices and it will only add to the enjoyment and entertainment of the book.
  2. Get the child involved in reading. Have children interact with the books; he or she can hold the book, turn the pages or point along with the words. Allowing the child to have a role in the reading experience will reinforce pre-reading skills, such as book orientation, reading progression from left to right and the significance of written word.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. Books are not only meant to be a receptive language activity, but also an expressive language task. Asking open-ended questions will help the child interact more with the story. Open-ended questions are unique in that it allows children to generate their own thoughts and answers. For example, “what do you think will happen?” or “how is he feeling?”. Try to stay away from yes-no questions or questions with one word answers.
  4. Do carry-over activities. The story within the book doesn’t have to end when the book is done. Have the child draw a picture of their favorite character or you can even act out his or her favorite scene. Your child could also retell the story in his or her own words. These activities will continue to reinforce the child’s love for reading as well as any concepts/vocabulary that he interacted with during the story line.

Here are some suggestions for books to read out loud with your preschooler:

  1. Pete the Cat books
  2. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  3. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
  4. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
  5. Corduroy by Don Freeman
  6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Click here for more tips on how to sneak in reading practice.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

autism spectrum disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobiological disorder that has three primary characteristics which are impaired social interactions, impaired communication and restricted and repetitive behavior. Children are usually diagnosed around age three, although many of the signs and characteristics of autism may appear prior to age three. The current prevalence of autism in 1 out of every 68 children and is more common in boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189).

Autism-A Spectrum Disorder:

ASD is known spectrum disorder which means individuals with ASD all have similar features, but rangeautism spectrum disorder in severity. Individuals with ASD do not typically have any defining physical characteristics that set them apart from other people.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

To receive an autism diagnosis a child must be evaluated and assessed by a licensed psychologist. There are several different diagnostic tools that are currently used when evaluating an individual with autism. Currently one of the most popular assessment is the Autism Diagnostic Observation (ADOS), this assessment combines observation with more interactive activities for the child. During the assessment the evaluator engages the child in some common childhood activities such as playing with dolls and having a pretend birthday party. Another popular assessment is the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), which is a behavior rating checklist.

Therapy for Autism:

Once a child receives an autism diagnosis, the parents must then find appropriate education and therapeutic service for their child which can be a daunting process. When considering how to help your child with autism, it is important to make sure that the intervention is evidenced based. Sadly there are many interventions that claim to “cure” autism, but there is no evidence supporting that intervention does in fact work. The “gold standard” of autism interventions is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA has many years of research proving its effectiveness with individuals with autism.


What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


sibling rivalry

3 Tips to Manage Sibling Rivalry

What’s the best part about having a sibling? The opportunity to tease, annoy, and meltdown under the protection of unconditional love and support. While sibling rivalry can be an expected part of family dynamics, the goal should be to reduce tension and provide more amicable means of communication rather than to eradicate this “normal” part of growth and development.

3 Tips for Handling Sibling Rivalry:

  1. Address tension around jealousy. If your child is envious of her sister’s peer group, new shoes, or3 Tips to Tame Sibling Rivalry involvement in advanced swimming lessons encourage her to separate her feelings of self with feelings about her sister. Allow her to express feeling happy for her sister’s accomplishments and gain rational thinking about why her sister is in advanced swimming and why she is still in tadpoles (age, experience, etc.). Then, have your daughter highlight positives in her life to offset jealousy regarding the “have nots.”
  2. De-escalate negative emotions. When tensions flare, as they will, encourage both children to take a “chill out” or a “break” to reduce arguments. Since siblings have more comfort and familiarity, nasty messages and below-the-belt commentary are not likely to be filtered. Diffuse the argument or tension by sending each child in opposite directions. When both are calm, they can talk and work through whatever the situation is. Don’t just send one child away, send both away so the message is fair, no “you like her better.”
  3. Encourage positive bonding time. Although lifestyles are hectic and schedules are full, ask your daughters to identify activities they would both like to engage in to facilitate fun memory-making and bonding. Instead of your children focusing on what the other siblings has, this will create an equal playing field and provide an opportunity for uniformity.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today.


Help Your Child Through a Friendship Break-Up

As adults, we can all relate to what it feels like to go through a ‘breakup,’ and all of the subsequent feelings that go along with it. Whether it be with a significant other, a business relationship or a friendship, there are often unresolved feelings related to the situation. For children, a friendship-breakup is typically their first exposure to the sentiments of a “breakup.”

In order to be able to best help your child manage and navigate this new and scary concept, we must first consider the fundamentals of a Breakup. For starters, in order for something to ‘break-up,’ it implies that the relationship was previously intact. This means that at one point, things were going well, sometimes really well…. And then it stopped.

Here are some steps you can follow to help your child through a friendship break-up:

  1. Create a safe space for your child to express self. This can mean setting aside special alone time How To Help Your Teen With A Friendship Break-Upwith no other distractions for the two of you (or three of you if there are two parents present) to connect. It is important to be especially mindful of your facial/behavioral/vocal reactions to the things your child expresses. Your child is going to learn, based on your reactions, what is safe to share and what is not. For example, if you appear to be overly emotional about the situation, your child in the future may choose to withhold certain information as means to protect mom/dad from becoming upset, etc. If you appear to be unemotional or too blunt/direct, your child will receive the message that these types of situations do not warrant discussing.
  2. Validate + Normalize your child’s feelings. When they are expressing certain feelings and/or circumstances, it can often feel comforting for children (people, in general) to know that they are not alone in their feelings. Perhaps sharing a similar story from your childhood can help to normalize your child’s experience. In managing your reaction/s, be mindful not to minimize your child’s feelings by skipping straight to the ‘problem solving.’ This middle step of Validation and Normalization is essential so that your child can identify feelings, practice expressing and articulating them, which ultimately requires your child to practice being vulnerable—a difficult yet incredibly important life skill.
  3. Problem Solve together. I recommend to start by first asking your child what ideas/thoughts he or she may have relating to how to handle the situation. Perhaps your child has already tried to do certain things on their own. This is a perfect safe space to share those experiences and discuss and process why your child felt it did or did not work. This may often give you, as the parent, deep insight into the innerworkings of your child’s mind by showcasing for you the ideas they gravitated towards on their own.
  4. Define the word, “friendship,” together. With your guidance, it can feel helpful for children to define the term friendship. Pending the age of the child, I recommend that the child either draw pictures or write down words on a piece of paper describing what friendship means to them. This can serve as a nice visual to guide dialogue so that the child can compare his or her definition of friendship with the way they describe their current dynamic with the friendship being discussed. This will highlight any discrepancies. For example, if your child lists, “good at sharing” as a characteristic a ‘friend’ should possess, yet also identifies feeling upset that their friend never shares… this can be an area to look at a little closer.
  5. Practice positive self-talk. Oftentimes, a breakup can cause an individual to question their self-worth. For example, “Am I not good enough?” or “It’s all my fault.” By practicing positive self-talk together, you are able to set a nice example and model for your child the types of things you say to yourself to help yourself feel better. One way to do this, is to turn any negative statements—into positives!

Click here to learn How Social Groups Can Help Your Child Navigate Friendships.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today.


Managing Time With ABA Therapy

Research has shown that children with autism who receive 20-40 or more hours a week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services make significantly more progress and have improved long-term outcomes. In short, the more ABA a child can receive, the better. To a parent whose child is newly diagnosed, this many hours can seem very overwhelming. Obviously parents want to do what is best for their child, so they want to get as many therapy hours as possible, but how do you balance a therapy schedule and typical daily activities? Below are some tips on how to make sure you have a balance between your child’s ABA therapy schedule and your daily routine.

Balancing the time commitment of ABA therapy:

  • If you child is seen in a clinic setting, use the time they are in therapy to yourTime Management and ABA Therapy advantage. Take this time to run errands, catch up on email, etc. Same with home sessions. If you child is receiving therapy in your home you can catch up on household chores.
  • Ask your child’s program supervisor for suggestions on how you can carry over certain skills at home. If your child is working on things like eye contact or requesting his wants and needs, these are things that you can do at home to help. The more your child can practice targeted skills, the quicker he will master these skills.
  • Find a parent support group so you can connect with families who are in a similar situation. It is important to have a good support network as they can provide support and give suggestions on dealing with the day-to-day challenges of having a child with autism.
  • Be sure to make time for fun activities/outings with your child during times they are not in therapy.
  • Utilize respite services for some kid-free time away from home. A respite worker can come and play with your child at home while you enjoy a date night or spend some time with friends.

It is important to remember, that while the more hours a child can get the better, it is also possible for children to still make progress with fewer hours. Sometimes 20 hours a week just isn’t possible, especially for a school-aged child. As long as your child is getting consistent ABA therapy you will still see gains. It is also possible to add hours during times when your child is not in school such as winter and summer breaks.

Click here to read more on the importance of parent involvement in ABA.

NSPT offers ABA Therapy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

How to Help Your Child With Handwriting

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association[1], handwriting is, “a complex process of managing written language by coordinating the eyes, arms, hands, pencil grip, letter formation, and body posture. The development of a child’s handwriting can provide clues to developmental problems that could hinder a child’s learning because teachers depend on written work to measure how well a child is learning.” To improve handwriting skills, it is important to consider the child holistically to help determine where the underlying problem lies.

How to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills:

  1. Evaluate her posture and body position. Encourage your child to work while sitting upright,Help Your Child With Handwriting
    with back straight and supported by the seat and two feet on the floor. Provide a footrest, or a cube chair with lateral support, if needed. If your child has a difficult time sitting still in this position (i.e. holds her head in her hands, lies down on the desk, or slouches prematurely), it may be due to a decrease in muscle tone, impacting core strength, postural control, and endurance for table work.
  2. Improve pencil grasp. Promoting a dynamic tripod pencil grasp is one strategy used by occupational therapists to improve handwriting success.  Children who use an inefficient pencil grasp fatigue quickly because they are enlisting the larger muscles groups to work overtime on small, finite tasks. Improving control of the distal muscles of the wrist and hand may improve overall fine motor development and legibility. Games such as Operation, Don’t Spill the Beans, Ker Plunk, and activities that require tongs and chopsticks are all helpful in strengthening these muscles, improving arch development, and facilitating the tripod grasp.
  3. Work on a vertical surface, such as a binder or an easel. This will help to stabilize the wrist and the hand, improve visual attention, and facilitate better eye-hand coordination.
  4. Facilitate multi-sensory engagement. For children who struggle with letter formation, including top down letter formation, line adherence, directionality, and overall legibility, practice working across multi-sensory writing apparatuses. Tracing bumpy letters, writing their name in shaving cream, sand, or finger paint, or using a stylus to trace, copy, or write letters on an iPad can improve motor planning, visual motor integration, and fine motor coordination. (Check out some handwriting app recommendations from our OT here.)
  5. Create a writing checklist. This is very motivating for grade school children and helps them to begin to edit their own work independently. Include simple, 1 step instructions (i.e. all of my words have enough space between them) along with a check box so that they can follow along and correct their work at their own pace.
  6. Adapt the paper. For children whose letters appear to be floating in the middle of the paper, or have a difficult time with placement of their words, adapting the paper itself can be a helpful tool. Often, I will create paper that has a blue line on top, a yellow line in the middle, and a green line on bottom and refer to them as the sky, the fence, and the grass, respectively. Using this visual, it is easy for children to see whether or not their letters fall on the grass, touch the sky, or pass through the fence.

Click here for 4 ways to better handwriting before pencil hits paper.


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


5 Benefits of In-Clinic and In-School Therapy

The new school year is underway, and children are adjusting to new routines, parents are meeting new teachers, and backpacks are filling with homework. Children are also starting in-school therapies again, often as stipulated through either an individualized education plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. Some children took the summer off from therapy, and others supplemented by participating in clinic-based therapies. With so many extracurricular activities, parents may wonder if their children need both school and clinic therapies. It is a decision based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, severity of disorder, insurance coverage, scheduling, and therapeutic minutes received at school. There are numerous benefits for children attending both in-school and clinic-based therapies. See below for the top five reasons.

5 benefits to doing both in-clinic and in-school therapy:

  1. Increased frequency: Children attending multiple therapies per week benefit from havingThe Benefits of Therapy In-Clinic and In-School increased frequency of services. They are being exposed to more direct therapy, as provided in both school and clinic. Children are able to target goals more often, and they tend to make greater gains in a shorter period of time.
  2. More personalized, individual approach: Children receiving clinic-based therapy are often in a one-on-one session, targeting a child’s specific needs. Children in school often participate in groups, targeting both their own goals as well as the goals of peers. Both types have benefits, as an individual session is tailored specifically to a child’s needs, while an in-school group session often targets goals as well as crucial peer interaction.
  3. Generalization across environments: As children make gains toward goals, clinicians often look to see how well skills translate, or generalize, across environments. For example, if children have mastered a skill in the clinic, the question will be how well they are able to reproduce the skill at home. Having children attend therapy in two environments can aid in their generalization.
  4. Collaborating therapists: Oftentimes, clinic-based therapists will reach out to their client’s in-school therapist to collaborate. This allows both therapists to be aware of a child’s goals, while keeping apprised of progress, as well as ongoing areas of need. Collaborating between professionals can ensure best practice and that a child is receiving the best possible care.
  5. Targeting variety of goals: Therapists in schools are often limited to goals that can be tied to specific academic needs. School therapists are bound by goals that may be impacting a child academically, and they are not always able to look at the entire scope of a child’s need. Clinic-based therapists are able to target on more functional goals, ensuring that all areas of need are addressed. Working on all areas of need together can help children reach their goals and maximize progress.

If parents have specific questions about how their child could benefit from both in-school and clinic-based therapies, their child’s therapists can help highlight advantages. Therapists often welcome collaboration, and in doing so, children receive the best care.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!